05 July 2010


Technical Report Writing

1. Understand the type of technical report you are writing.
Technical reports come in all shapes and sizes, but they all share the same goal of communicating information clearly. Deciding what type of document you need to write is an important first step as it influences your approach.
Reporting Research Findings
These documents describe the work done to gather information in the laboratory or field. They can be simple recording or data or more thorough and include: the problem or issue examined, the method or equipment used, the data collected and the implications.
Simple Technical Information Report
This document explains a technical subject. It has no aim other than to make sure readers understand the topic clearly. For example, a technical report on a investing in the futures market would probably explain how the market evolved, how it works, the specialist terms used and so on. A simple technical report for information does not put forward a view on the merits of investing in the market or have recommendations.
Technical Specifications
Specifications typically consist of descriptions of the features, materials, uses and workings of new product. Good specifications concentrate on graphics, data and illustrations rather than written descriptions. Think of a patent application as a good example.
Technical Evaluation Reports
Evaluation reports, sometimes called feasibility reports, present technical information in a practical and logical way to decide whether something is possible. For example, a technical evaluation report into setting up an intranet site for a corporation would examine if this was possible, set out the steps needed and point out any problems. It does not recommend if the corporation should set up its own intranet site.
Technical Recommendation Reports
These reports lead to specific recommendations. It builds on the evaluation report and comes to specific recommendations to help the decision-maker adopt the best solution. Of course, some reports often have both the evaluation and recommendation reports rolled into one
Technical Manuals and Instructions

Here the emphasis is on using appliances, equipment or programs. The task here is to write step-by-step procedures anyone can understand and follow.
2. Write down your specific aim
Ask yourself ‘why am I writing’ and ‘what am I trying to achieve?’ If you don’t know, the chances of writing good technical specifications are remote. If you define your aim, you can then evaluate all information, arguments and recommendations against that aim. For example, you might be writing a report on Firewall Software, but your aim is different if you need to write a one-page summary or a 100-page technical specification.
If you have more than one aim, sort them into priority order.
3. Plan the sections and subsections you need.
With technical writing you must present your information so readers can:
* use the report for the purpose for which it was requested;
* extract the main points without necessarily reading the whole;
* easily find the information that interests them;
* and quickly absorb the crucial information they need to know.
If you don’t organize your document well, readers may miss important information. It is up to you to present your information in a readable and well-organized way. You should offer informative summaries, clear instructions and a logical arrangement to let your readers pick and choose the parts they want to read.
4. Avoid starting with Background, Introduction or Methodology.
These headings encourage you to warm up to the writing task and waste the most valuable part of the document—the first page. Instead, use the opening page to present the essential information. For example: Once you have written down your sections and subsections, review them. Drop ones that are not essential. Then work out the best order to let readers pick out the information they need.
5. Write in plain English.
Good writing, whether technical or general, presents relevant information in a clear style. Technical writing has such a poor reputation—ask users what they think of computer manuals—because writers fail to use the clear, plain English style.
Plain English is a simple style that anyone can understand. You have to control sentence length, use active verbs, cut down on unnecessary jargon, make your writing specific and tight. This is not the way we learn to write at college or in the workplace. The culture of academic writing and business and scientific writing is the dull, long-winded, passive style. Take the following example; then compare the draft in plain English.
6. Keep your average sentence between 10 to 20 words.
Long sentences make any document hard to read. In technical documents keep your average sentence between 10 to 20. You may go down as low as 10 or 11 words if you're writing instructions with many short, sharp sentences telling the user what to do. However, if you get below 10 words, you're probably overdoing the technique of short sentences.
7. Keep technical terms to a minimum.
Although a specialist technical vocabulary is necessary, don’t let this be an excuse to use the technical word unthinkingly.
8. Use examples and illustrations.
When you write up your technical information, remember to use examples, illustrations and analogies to explain difficult information or new ideas.
A simple example or illustration can go a long way to making technical writing understandable.
9. Use diagrams, flowcharts and graphs.
The cliché a picture is worth a thousand words is true. A good diagram, flowchart or graph can present information quickly that would take ten sentences to explain.